Saturday, 31 December 2011

You are on now

I want to tackle the sometimes scary concept of public speaking.

In common with many people I spent  a lot of my school years hoping the bell would ring before I would have to read out loud in class but I decided to challenge myself and joined a drama group. I also took the opportunity to take spoken English exams. Both are probably still the stuff of my nightmares but have provided lots to look back on. They also made me much more confident and were never regretted.

reflexology socks
The spoken English exam is etched in my memory because part of it involved being given a topic to speak about for 5 minutes with a moment's notice. I got "socks"...well I survived somehow and remember there were not the fancy socks on the market in the late 1960's. It would have been good if they made these reflexology socks for instance. Mind you I did manage to get in the idea of sock suspenders I think which had long fascinated me - my grandfather wore them - and must have given the assessor a wry smile.
sock suspenders
Drama wise the main speaking role I had was in an old fashioned play by Dodie Smith "Dear Octopus" where I had to have a row with another actor/6th former whilst laying a table for a dinner. I had to threaten her with a knife and can still recall the slight drawing in of breath in the audience.

On leaving school and in the government on a management training course there was a day on public speaking and I was absolutely chuffed to bits to see I was marked down as a "natural speaker" - this after years of being told I spoke too fast and must slow down. Then another student came over and asked me if he had noted like he had her that I had a "posh voice". He hadn't but only last month I was telling this story to a friend who teaches people how to speak in public. When I told her what my fellow course member had said she looked at me astounded and pronounced a resonating  "DID she?" So I think either my colleague was well off the mark or my speech has deteriorated over the years!

Panel discussion 
I have had to speak a number of times in public over the years including five years of teaching adults and one or two work related events that have been highly stressful to orchestrate involving sniffer dogs and celebrities but quite fun, in hindsight at least. This panel at the Oxford Literary Festival some years ago was taken by a blogger who was in the audience so there is even evidence of me public speaking in the ether!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Loving my name

In common with many people my relationship with my name has had a chequered history.

At primary school I took pains to get the saying of the name over as quickly as possible and found its use, especially the whole name - Susan Clow - excruciatingly embarrassing. I had mostly become a Sue by the time I was in the juniors and not enjoying the mildly derogatory Clowie that came from the boys lips...put me off that sweet little name Chloe of course. I also had the most common female name of the mid 1950's - the male equivalent was John - so along with many others I have spent a lot of my childhood looking up to "Susan!". There were several in my class including at one point a glamorously named Susan Hayward who must have had a very difficult time!

The pronunciation of my last name has been an issue partly because there seem to have evolved two ways of pronouncing it with each side firmly adhering to the way they were taught from the start of course. I understand Clow derives from Cloh, meaning side of a ravine and it may be from West Yorkshire. My family history research has led me to the seventeenth century where a whole raft of Clows I can track forward lived in the village of Ide near Exeter in South Devon and low and behold a Susan Clow there in the 1640s! So yes, the pronunciation - I have to say Clow as in blow not Clow as in cow, but some say the reverse I imagine.

I have assertively re adopted by name in the last 15 years including the full Susan which seems to suit the short last name so well having given up the name for 20 years. I feel proud of it now and I don't even flinch when my name is read out - hell I have even used it for my blogs...! I might even say that now I love my name...

Mandarin Susan

Sunday, 18 December 2011


I am chronically indecisive when it comes to making a firm decision about an issue. I always wonder if I have the complete story and what the other person's perspective might be, where the shades of grey might be.  Throw in a dash of cynicism too and it is a lethal cocktail for deciding.

I was so impressed by a poster by Annie and Ken Meharg for One World Week in 1993 that I kept it all these years because it seemed to highlight what I was feeling. The poster, and rhyme below was their modern rendition of an old Hindu story about a blind man and an elephant. If you have ever played that game where you sit back to back and one describes an object to the other and they rely on abstract description then you will understand all this and that is just about methods of communication! The elephant in the poster looked like this and the focus was TV coverage:

The rhyme [ and I hope they forgive me for quoting it again ] goes like this:

"On Channel 1 the SIDE was shown. The man began to drawl:
“It’s wrinkly, grey and flat and big, and vertical and tall.
You see,” said he “The elephant is just a concrete WALL.”

When Channel 2 came into view, TUSK pictures were quite clear,
It glinted, sharp, still, long and white. “Like ivory, my dear,
You see,” said she, “The elephant is an exquisite SPEAR.”

On Channel 3 the TRUNK swayed free; a curl, a wave, a shake.
It wriggled, twisted, dance in air. “It’s lively, no mistake,
You see” said he, “The elephant is a long fat wriggly SNAKE.”

On Channel 4, the huge LEG bore resemblance, you could see,
to something sturdy, broad an tall, set in the earth, said she:
“It’s obvious the elephant’s another kind of TREE.”

On Channel 5, the EAR shown live. From an excited man:
“It flaps, it’s flat, it’s just like that, it’s thin, it flies, it can!
To me”, said he “The elephant’s a frisky, fancy, FAN.”

On Channel 6 the TAIL pix. We saw the newsman grope.
It hung, it swung, quite long and strong! It’s clear to any dope –
this creature called an elephant is nothing but a ROPE.”

People tuned to different channels argue loud and long –
though none has seen an elephant, each holds one view so strong,
and each is partly in the right, but all are in the wrong!"

What more can I say? It says it all...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Snap happy!

Brownie Vecta
At eight years old I had what I now realise was a newly launched camera as a gift - the Kodak Brownie Vecta. It took 8 pictures in black and white and my first shots were of animals in a zoo in Guernsey. I can see the light grey case I carried it around in now and recall the excitement of this magical thing!

Slide projector
My father loved to take photographs. He would spend what to us were endless hours getting his shots just right, us with rictus smiles, and equally endless hours showing them on a slide projector and screen at home. In fact these sessions were quite fun for us as at least we would see our holidays again and glimpse ourselves but what friends made of this I can only imagine - they were very patient. No Flickr then of course... I recall one evening when I was about 17 coming home to find a show in progress and I had had a couple of vodka and oranges or Dubonnets and needed to demonstrate my steadiness and was desperately trying to look sober!

A short Polaroid experience - when working with young offenders in the 1980s the face of a young lad who was being photographed for the project kept coming out black. A few weeks later he died in an accident in a car he had always made me ambivalent about these instant cameras.

I would have liked to have had experience of black and white developing which was all the rage if you had space to dedicate a light tight room to the chemical processing. I did once take some shots to be developed at college and had the unexpected support of a tutor who was as embarrassed as I was to watch a nude torso shot of me clarify itself in the developing tray.

Cut to parenthood and one very jerky hand held video camera series of moments with young children that makes you feel seasick to watch, and a lot of regret that I could not do more moving pictures.

Now photos are my aide memoire for everything and I get so much pleasure out of digital photography and the manipulation of images in things that I do....probably the most enjoyable digital experience there is....!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The reading bug with Dick and Dora

Dick and Dora 1960ish
Tracing my love of reading takes me back to my first book experiences as a five year old. I am told that on the first day of school rather than cling to my almost tearful, worried Mum I ran over to the book corner and got ensconced without a backward glance. My learning to read schemes must have given me something despite the fact that they look pretty dreary half a century later. In 1960 infant reading schemes in the UK were split between readers that involved Janet and John and those that involved what was probably the older - Dick and Dora. Our school was in the Dick and Dora camp. Just look at the wonderful pictures!

I was an avid reader and devoured Enid Blyton especially but also liked the Just William books, Arthur Ransome  and Jennings and Derbyshire. Having read them all I had to have permission to move to the adult section of the local library before 11 and then had authors like Gerald Durrell, Conan Doyle, Wodehouse and Wheatley to pursue. Not really any adolescent fiction then. Much more choice now of course. When I started on the A level English route my teacher gave us a book list that she said would make us book snobs for the rest of our lives. It contained, of course, the Huxleys and Hemingways of the world. I can recall feeling distinctly guilty reading Jacqueline Susann at 18 when I started to deviate from the list for some light reading.
so much to read....!
I decided not to do a degree in English because I was worried that it would take away all the pleasure I got from reading by analysing them out of existence. Now my biggest worry is not being able to remember books after I have read them - even books I have loved. I cannot even recall them long enough for a good discussion about them, unless I record as I go along. Feel like a goldfish brain sometimes. I have even been known to choose the same book again unaware I have read it until my partner tells me.

Still whatever my memory I do agree with this quote from George R R Martin:

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one."